Magazine article National Defense

'Diving into the Dirt': Riverines Rehearse for First Mission in Iraq

Magazine article National Defense

'Diving into the Dirt': Riverines Rehearse for First Mission in Iraq

Article excerpt

FORT PICKETT, Va. -- On a chilly winter's day, four boats round the bend of a winding reservoir and zip quietly through the water in single file. As they reach their destination--a suspected weapons cache ashore--the small riverine craft slow down. Aboard, sailors clad in camouflaged uniforms grip their weapons, watching the shoreline for signs of hostility. Quickly, two boats slide up to the shore to deposit a small team on its banks.

Just weeks before deploying to Iraq, the Navy's Riverine Squadron One is conducting an exercise at a National Guard installation tucked away in south-central Virginia. Fort Pickett, with its 42,000 acres of forests, water, urban operations training facilities and live-fire ranges, "gives us an opportunity to train in the expeditionary environment," says Cmdr. Craig Trent, a training officer with the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command, headquartered at Naval Amphibious Base in Little Creek, Va., where the riverine squadron is based.

Beginning this month, the squadron--the Navy's first official riverine unit since the Vietnam War--will take over what has been a Marine Corps mission in Western Iraq: security of Haditha Dam, which generates electricity for Iraq. The 224 members of the squadron will be responsible for protecting the dam. In addition, they will establish naval presence on the Euphrates River and other similar waterways in Al-Anbar province, the squadron's commanding officer, Cmdr. William J. Guarini, tells National Defense.

The Navy agreed to relieve the Marine Corps from riverine patrol duties because the Corps was overstretched on the ground in Iraq. The mission also marks the beginning of what could be a broader Navy role in riverine operations elsewhere in the world.

Commissioned last May, the riverine squadron preparing for duty in Iraq has been through months of intense training at the Marine and the Special Missions Training Center at Camp LeJeune, N.C.

The three-day exercise is testing the riverines' acquired skills through a number of scenarios brought to life through Arabic-speaking actors, pyrotechnics and other special effects provided by Strategic Operations Inc., which was founded by a former Hollywood television and movie director.

"We're not a training company. We enhance what the trainers do," says Stu Segall, founder and owner of the company, which has worked with the Marines, the Coast Guard and Navy SEALs in the past.

Back on the water, where the squadron's 2nd detachment stands watch in the four small unit riverine craft, it is eerily quiet as the maritime interdiction operations team advances toward a small shack along the bank. Iraqi role players walk out to meet the sailors. Every now and then, a helicopter whirls above the scene and disappears behind the trees. Suddenly, a riverine yells out "Ogaf!"--stop, in Arabic. Gunfire erupts in the woods and there is a scuffle behind a large boulder.

The riverines manning the boats don't make a sound, but are on alert as the team on the ground tends to the wounded and subsequently discovers an improvised explosive device and bomb-making equipment inside the shack. As detainees are taken, small arms fire erupts once more and a rocket-propelled grenade shoots out from the woods and lands near the water, exploding in a fireball of flame. Finally, the riverines in the boats open fire, churning up the water as green smoke rises from the banks--a signal to pick up their team. As the gunfire subsides, two boats slip up to shore and the riverines load up their colleagues and the detainees. There are casualties. They pull away from the banks and linger in the deeper waters. The role players seize the opportunity to unleash a surprise attack on the boats, lobbing more rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire toward the water as the riverines pull away.

Professional actors, explosions and realistic medical trauma effects are new elements for the Navy in training up its forces. …

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